Politics, Rhetoric, and Deadly Sins

The Vatican has come out with 7 new deadly sins (just in time for Spring!).  Let’s take a look at the political impact of the sins.  Times Online:

He said that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”. Whereas sin in the past was thought of as being an invididual matter, it now had “social resonance”.

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos,” he said.

Bishop Girotti said that mortal sins also included taking or dealing in drugs, and social injustice which caused poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”.

How exactly does globalization lead to new mortal sins?  I must be missing something about the nature of sin.  Oh well.  Let’s take a look at the wording being used for the newly minted sins.  Starting with “morally debatable scientific experiments”.  That’s setting the bar unusually low.  Not “immoral” scientific experiments, like those performed in the German concentration camps and Japanese prison camps during WWII.  Simply “morally debatable”.  That could be anything!  One might argue that studies into evolution or animal sexuality might be considered “morally debatable”.  All you need to meet that standard is someone willing to debate!

But back to the sins themselves.  Enshrining abortion and stem cell research as actions worthy of eternal damnation outside of whether or not they constitute murder accomplishes a great many things at once.  It exerts further pressure on Catholic (and sympathetic non Catholic Christian) politicians to take a public stand against stem cell research and freedom of choice.  And the Catholic Church does not shy away from getting directly involved in politics, pulling stunts like threatening to withhold communion from politicians who fall out of favor with the Church.  It also provides the faithful with a way to avoid the troublesome “but life doesn’t begin at conception” argument.  To them, it no longer matters.  The Church directly decreed it a mortal sin, and therefore, it is to be opposed, science be damned.

And in fact the Catholic Church seems to be returning to its anti-science roots with the new set of sins.  Adding items like pollution and excessive wealth merely sugarcoat what is essentially a strong re-affirmation of the Church’s misogynistic, anti-intellectual world-view and a transparent attempt to cover for their own sins:

He said that two mortal sins which continued to preoccupy the Vatican were abortion, which offended “the dignity and rights of women”, and paedophilia, which had even infected the clergy itself and so had exposed the “human and institutional fragility of the Church”.

All of this comes in response to a sense of shrinking political and religious power:

After 1,500 years the Vatican has brought the seven deadly sins up to date by adding seven new ones for the age of globalisation. The list, published yesterday in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, came as the Pope deplored the “decreasing sense of sin” in today’s “securalised world” and the falling numbers of Roman Catholics going to confession.

This is the religious struggling against the secular.  It is an attempt by the Church to control the State, and to control Knowledge.  That’s what’s at stake in the repeated skirmishes between religious authorities and the scientific establishment.  The question of whether we are free to expand our knowledge of the world free of the shackles of religious thought.  Contrary to the beliefs of those who live within the walled gardens of organized religion, safe and warm with a false sense of security, ethics and morality do exist outside of religion.  And the secular world, the world of reason and science, has no need to bow to the false idols of scripture or dogma.

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